Tag Archives: basketball

Inside Sport Management At NYU: Nike Plots Basketball Dominance

When I explain to people what I’m studying at college, it’s never an easy answer. Telling them that I go New York University is the obvious first step, but when I tell that to someone, their first thought is almost always the image of a dirty hipster, prowling the depths of the LES, Williamsburg, or some obscure place that’s not cool yet but will be in a few months, rather than an institution of higher learning. I’m not a film major at the prestigious Tisch School of the Arts, and I’m not a future millionaire at the internationally renowned Stern Business School. No, I study Sport Management at NYU’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies. Within that school exists my program: The Robert Preston Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism, Sport Management, and Horseback Riding. I call it the “fake Tisch” or just SCPS. Curious looks always follow-up my ramble.

After explaining what school I’m in at NYU, which takes three more sentences than it should, I’ll always immediately jump out and explain what a “Sport Management” major is—I’m not going to school to be a baseball coach or an equipment jockey. On the first day of class freshman year, my “Introduction to Sport Management” instructor laid it out pretty well. I’m in a program that’s rooted in the same business principles and practices that a Stern business student would learn, but taught with an angle slighted towards the sports industry. I learn accounting, marketing, consumer behavior, business development, law—the whole nine yards—except every example given to teach me these subjects has to do with sports. It’s much easier to learn accounting when the finances of the Yankees or MSG are on the table. Last semester, I actually had fun writing a 12 page paper on organizational structures, because it was on how Liverpool FC stacks up.

From the first minute of class, we’re instantly taught to stop thinking like a fan, and to think like a savvy industry insider. Yet what really makes the material to much fun to absorb is that little fan switch in the back of my mind—it’s never fully in the off position. At heart, I’m a fan of the sports, leagues, teams, and companies discussed in class. Would you rather study the accounting statement of Fortune 500 Company X, or the team you just spent three hours yelling at through your television last Sunday? The skills I’m picking up in my major is allowing me to analyze my favorite teams at a higher level. I’m actually becoming a better fan—there’s no inverse relationship between my business knowledge and my personal fandom of the sports industry.

At SCPS, I’ve been blessed with a truly outstanding faculty. Most, if not all of my Sport Management professors have other gigs outside of the classroom. They’re still working jobs within the industry, mostly in some sort of counseling or writing capacity. Occasionally, examples brought up in class will directly follow a sporting trend that’s worth noting. I’ll be using this column to explain them as best as my notes dictate, and with added analysis from my own perspective.

The first grand idea comes from Professor David Hollander’s Marketing of Sports and Events class. He was giving a lecture on the pillars of marketing, and how businesses should think about themselves. He brought up the railroad industry as a prime example of how businesses fail to evaluate themselves properly. Back in the late 20th and early 21st century, if railroad companies thought about themselves as being in the travel business, and not the railroad business, they would’ve had a chance to adapt to the airplane and car, the two dominant forms of transportation today. When companies ask themselves “What business am I in?” the answer should always be based on the wants and needs of the consumer, and not one specific product.

A more modern example would be book companies. Book publishers don’t think of themselves as being in the book (you know, that physical stack of paper bound together) business, but in the literature business. People want to read, and it’s the job of every publisher to get people to read their products—whether it’s an e-book, audiobook, or a physical book—publishers should be taking the steps to make their products as widely available to consumers as possible.

Since this is a Sport Management class, an example relating to the industry was brought up. Nike has just signed on with FIBA as a presenting sponsor of FIBA’s new international three-on-three basketball tournament. FIBA is trying to get three-on-three basketball into the Olympics as soon as 2016. This leaves the NBA in a predicament. The NBA and FIBA are both in the basketball business, with the NBA promoting organized five-on-five basketball, and FIBA pushing everything that’s basketball in the world. Basketball is already the second most commercially popular sport in the world, and three-on-three basketball is rapidly on the rise in Europe and China. FIBA has had three-on-three world championships before, and FIBA General Secretary Patrick Baumann claims that three-on-three tournaments happen nearly every week in China—a claim that my roommate, a Chinese graduate student who’s in the United States for the first time, backs up. (He owns six Kobe Bryant jerseys and is an avid three-on-three player back home.) The NBA has no competing international product, other than the reach of their own league.

If David Stern and the NBA truly think of themselves as a global purveyor of basketball, they’d be falling behind the eight-ball if they let FIBA, and the new American Basketball League, start dictating the direction of the sport. The newly formed ABL is launching this January, and they plan to use FIBA rules, which means a different ball, shorter 3-point line, and an overall more offense game than what the NBA allows (basically what you saw in the 2012 Olympics). The ABL’s plan is to serve as a feeder league for European leagues, so American players who aren’t NBA quality can hone the international style to seek professional employment in Europe.

Between FIBA’s reach in the ABL, their plans for three-on-three, the NBA’s idea to have an age limit on Olympic players and to potentially create a “World Cup of Basketball,” something’s got to give. If the NBA doesn’t put it’s biggest stars on display in the Olympics, does it cost itself international expansion opportunities? Without a doubt. They’d be harming the five-on-five product internationally, which could help promote an Olympic three-on-three tournament by default. If three-on-three catches on, and NBA quality players compete in a more exciting three-on-three tournament in the Olympics, the NBA will be under threat.

FIBA and the NBA are at war for the future of global basketball. FIBA now offers Olympic basketball, an American league, and three-on-three. There are more NBA fans in China than people in the United States, but if those fans are playing three-on-three more and more, it would only take one three-on-three star to have the sport explode. If the NBA thinks of themselves as being in the business of organized basketball, no matter how many players are on the court, they should be able to deal with FIBA’s threats. Perhaps an NBA sanctioned three-on-three league in Europe or China should be in the cards? If they fail to get a foothold on the burgeoning three-on-three market, they will lose significant amounts of basketball market share oversees.

On the flip side of this war are the apparel companies. Adidas is currently signed on as the NBA’s official sponsor. Since Nike is locked out of that market, they’ve decided to sponsor three-on-three basketball, as well as Spain’s professional league. Nike already has Jordan, LeBron, Kobe, and Durant under their marionette strings. By running to get their products in the hands of international players first, they’re ahead of the curve. Nike is eating on two fronts: they’ve got the five most popular players in the world in their shoes, and they’ve got thousands of international athletes in their uniforms. Adidas may have NBA players outfitted in their uniforms, but Nike seems determined to get the other billion basketball players around the world into their shirts, sweats, and shoes. As usual, Nike is holding the keys to the future. It would horrify David Stern into retirement if Chinese kids started wearing the Nike jersey of some Spanish three-on-three star instead of LeBron’s Adidas sponsored Miami Heat jersey.

Five-on-five basketball is deeply rooted within American sporting culture—there will never be an American three-on-three league as big as the NBA. But whoever said basketball was just an American sport? Nike and FIBA are banking on the rest of the world’s players carrying a different brand of basketball. It’s vital that the NBA thinks more like HarperCollins, and not like Union Pacific Railroad.

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49

Sports Media Today and Their Shame

“It’d be a tough one, but I think we’d pull it out.”—Kobe Bryant on whether the 2012 Men’s team could beat the 1992 Dream Team

“They have (Patrick) Ewing and (David) Robinson and those big guys. It’s tough. If you’re asking me, ‘Can you beat them one game?’ Hell yeah, we can beat them one game.”—Kobe when asked if he stood by his first comments.

“If we got the opportunity to play them [the Dream Team] in a game we feel like we would win too.”—LeBron James commenting on Kobe’s comments.

“I absolutely laughed.”—Michael Jordan on everything.

Two weeks ago, I laid out the facts, the matchups, and the strategies behind a hypothetical Dream Team vs. 2012 Team game. In my arena, the Dream Team would whoop the 2012 Team. For any basketball observer, it’s a given: Not only is the Dream Team better than the 2012 Team, but the 2012 Team isn’t even as good as the 2008 team, which narrowly beat Spain in the Gold Medal game. Nobody was talking Dream Team vs. Redeem Team back then.

Kobe’s first quote about beating the Dream Team is over two weeks old. LeBron’s newest quote, reaffirming his belief that his squad would win, is from today. The entire Dream Team vs. 2012 Team is an example of shameless story manufacturing on the part of the sports media at large. An old story was recycled just for the sake of press. It’s no better than the English tabloids drumming up football transfer rumors and lies, and running the same stories every few months just to sell a headline.

Turn on any talkshow on ESPN today, or any hour of SportsCenter, and LeBron’s quote will be covered, dissected, and dismissed just as Kobe’s was. What won’t make the broadcast though, is LeBron’s follow-up quote:

“As a competitor you never want to say that you will lose no matter who you are going against.”

LeBron pointed out exactly why his quote, Kobe’s quotes, and the entire story is total rubbish. What else is LeBron James, the best basketball player on the planet, supposed to say? Anything less than “We’d win,” and images of pre-championship LeBron would be brought back to life. He has no confidence. He lacks Kobe or Jordan’s killer mentality. LeBron was put in a lose-lose situation by reporters just for the sake of a story.

And what was Kobe going to say? He’s the most pathological competitor in basketball today—only Jordan has ever topped Kobe’s mean-streak. Kobe genuinely believes that he could beat anyone in anything. It’s just the way he’s wired. In both Kobe and LeBron’s case, they were set up to deliver controversial quotes before they even answered. There’s a reason why Kevin Love or James Harden weren’t asked these ridiculous questions. 1) Both Love and Harden know that they’d get whooped by Barkley and Drexler, 2) They’re more likely to give more tame answers, just because of who they are, and 3) Nobody gives a fuck about what Kevin Love or James Harden thinks, except for their mothers. These writers went after the 2012 Team’s two top-dogs, and targeted them for sensationalist dialogue, because there’s no big story this Olympics. In 2008, it was all about the “Redeem Team,” and the players rededicating themselves to the USA Basketball cause after 2004’s horror show in Athens. This year, the team is just good, and there’s apparently nothing interesting about just being good. That’s just lazy reporting.

This dives into a much larger problem in sports media. Last month, Mark Cuban Ethered Skip Bayless for the lack of real analysis and the preponderance of storyline fabrication.

It’s no surprise that Cuban went after Bayless, while Stephen A. Smith—another loud-mouth who uses his Southern preacher-like overtures and tones to make points (an example of the classic “Whoever is loudest wins the debate” problem)—stood silent. Smith didn’t want it with Cuban, because he knew that Cuban was right. Bayless and Smith are exactly the talking heads that reporters feed when they ask Kobe or LeBron about the Dream Team. Their spew fills minutes on the air-waves, puts inches in columns, and brings in traffic to ESPN’s army of websites and networks. No wonder coaches and players never say anything of real meaning in interviews—the media doesn’t care if they outline double-teams or shooting percentages—they want the MediaTakeOut quote. It creates a level of distrust that only hurts the conversation.

Let’s see some x’s and o’s drawn up about how the Gasol brothers might take the 2012 Team’s weak interior to the brink of defeat. Let’s point out that LeBron’s ability to play power forward has the team playing small-ball, allowing Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony to run free. Let’s put real sports analysis ahead of talk, and authentic stories ahead of shameless story manufacturing. Let’s be the anti-Bayless.

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49

1992 Dream Team Vs. 2012 USA Men’s Team: The Breakdown

“So I don’t know. It’d be a tough one, but I think we’d pull it out.”—Kobe Bryant on whether the 2012 Men’s team could beat the 1992 Dream Team

“I absolutely laughed.”—Michael Jordan on Kobe’s quote.

In any sport, it’s difficult to compare guys from different eras. Athletes today are healthier, more athletic, and smarter than they were twenty years ago. NBA rules have changed to make the game more open, allowing point guards to flourish. The league has gotten softer as players have become more physically gifted—the guys on the 1992 Dream Team were probably disgusted by how the playoffs were called this year. But if a hypothetical game between the Dream Team and the sequel to 2008’s “Redeem Team” happened, would the 2012 squad have a chance? Before we get into match-ups, here’s what we know:

The two greatest players of their generation are at the apex of their powers. At age 28 in 1992, Michael Jordan came off a 30-6-6 year, embarrassed Clyde Drexler in the 1992 Finals after a “Who’s Better: Jordan or Drexler?” debate was started during the playoffs, and promptly seized Finals MVP (the famous Shrug Game being the highlight). At age 27, LeBron James is coming off an MVP 27-6-8 campaign and a Finals MVP, settling a premature and unfair “Who’s Better: Durant or LeBron?” debate. Jordan at his peak versus LeBron at his peak? And if Gus Johnson is calling the game… Instant cumshot for every basketball fan.

Every player on the Dream Team is an NBA Hall of Famer except for Christian Laettner. If Isiah Thomas wasn’t hated so universally in 1992, he would’ve made it over Laettner (Chuck Daly, the Dream Team’s coach, and Thomas’s coach on the Pistons didn’t even pick him), giving the Dream Team 12 Hall of Famers in 12 roster spots. Alas, they’re 11 for 12 (unless Laettner’s College Basketball Hall of Fame spot counts. He’s enshrined in the same building as Jordan, since the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield covers all areas of basketball). It’s hard to project who will be a Hall of Famer on the 2012 team, but surely the likes of Andre Iguodala won’t make it to Springfield. For historical purposes, the Dream Team reigns supreme.

The 2012 team lacks size. Tyson Chandler is the lone 7-footer on that roster, and offers nothing offensively. The Dream Team had 7-footers Patrick Ewing and David Robinson. Dwight Howard is missed just for his size and post strength alone. Chandler can’t play the entire game though, leaving the likes of Kevin Love, LeBron, and Anthony Davis to protect the post against Ewing, Robinson, Charles Barkley, and Karl Malone.

The Dream Team is slow at point guard. Magic Johnson didn’t play in the NBA in 1992, but he proved in the Olympics that he was still the best point guard in basketball. At age 31, however, he was a huge liability defensively. His backup, John Stockton, was no burner either. Meanwhile, the 2012 team has the most explosive point guard available in Russell Westbrook, and Magic’s heir, Chris Paul.

The 2012 team is injured. Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose, Dwayne Wade, and Blake Griffin are all out with injuries for Team USA. Howard’s size, Rose’s speed, Wade’s scoring, and Griffin’s power are all huge misses for the 2012 team. These guys would’ve made a real difference. Howard and Griffin would help patch a weak spot inside for the 2012 team, Rose could further exploit Magic and Stockton, and Wade is a huge upgrade at shooting guard over Kobe’s current backups.

Now that those facts have been hashed out, who wins the individual matchups at each position?

Magic in his prime was better than Chris Paul is now, but in 1992, Magic was at the end of his career. A Paul/Westbrook/Deron Williams combination would tear up Magic and Stockton (who got regularly got beat by the speedy Gary Payton throughout his career), beating them with pure speed and stealing ability. 2012 Team wins.

Here, the two biggest alpha-dogs of their time would be paired up against each other. Nobody in basketball was more competitive than Jordan, although Kobe would definitely have something to say about that. Jordan and Kobe would kill each other out there. Although Jordan in his prime blows an aging Kobe away physically, Kobe wouldn’t make it easy—he’s too much of a competitive killer. Drexler wasn’t the same player after Jordan took his soul in the 1992 Finals (seriously, Drexler went from being a top 5 player to barely an All-Star after that), but he’s still superior to James Harden and Westbrook at the 2. Drexler was in his prime in 1992, while Harden, Gordon and Westbrook are still figuring themselves out. Dream Team wins.

Larry Bird, Chris Mullin, and Scottie Pippen (and maybe Barkley?) against LeBron, Kevin Durant, and Carmelo Anthony. While LeBron will play any position 1-5 and would probably guard Jordan, Durant and Anthony could hold their own. Larry Bird was still a maverick with the ball even when he retired, but his back was shot by this point. The uber-athletic speed, strength, and length of Durant and Anthony would cause too much trouble for Bird, Mullin, and Pippen to handle. Have LeBron actually play the 3, and this matchup is no contest. 2012 Team wins.

Barkley in his prime was better than any forward not named LeBron that the 2012 team could offer against him. He’d make Love question his own abilities, as Love is hardly an apt defender. Barkley would remind Davis of his rookie status over and over again, as an undersized but thick Barkley would plow through Davis. Malone coming off of a world-beating 28-11 season only makes things worse for the 2012 team. Davis is the only one who could potentially defend Barkley and Malone—2015 Anthony Davis that is—not rookie Anthony Davis. Dream Team wins.

A Pity Party is needed for Tyson Chandler here. He’s going to have to do the bulk of the interior defending with Davis against Ewing and Robinson in their primes. Chandler is the best defensive center in basketball today, but he couldn’t hold on against Robinson and Ewing rotating in and out. Too many big, fresh bodies for the Dream Team, and not nearly enough offense or size inside for the 2012 team. Dream Team wins.

The Dream Team wins 3-2 in the matchup battle. These are teams that will come bringing different styles of basketball though, and matchups aren’t everything. The Dream Team would have more emphasis on attacking the weak interior of the 2012 Team with their bigs, while having Jordan and Magic do everything they can on fast breaks. The 2012 team is going to try and win on speed and athleticism down the wings and in transition, with Chris Paul and LeBron in a power-point guard role spearheading attacks to Westbrook, Durant, and Davis down the court. If I’m Coach K, I go with a Paul, Kobe, Westbrook, Durant, LeBron, Chandler starting five, but eventually settling in with a Paul, Westbrook, Durant, LeBron, Davis lineup to make the game a track meet. It’s their only shot against the size of the Dream Team.

Who wins? The Dream Team. Never bet against Jordan. No way he lets this game get away.

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49